When The Professionals Trash Your Data Tape, Can It Still Be Recovered?

People trying to preserve digital artifacts held on old media often not only have to contend with the media themselves decaying, but also with obscure media formats for which there’s seemingly little chance of finding a working reader. [Kneesnap] had this problem with a tape containing the only known copy of all the assets for the game Frogger 2: Swampy’s Revenge, and the tale of how the data was recovered is a dive into both the shady side of the data recovery industry and some clever old-format hacking.

The tape was an Onstream cartridge, a short-lived format from a company whose first product hit the market at the end of the ’90s and who went bust in 2004. An old drive was found, but it proved to have a pinch roller melted with age, so in desperation the tape was sent to a data recovery company.

We admire the forbearance in not naming and shaming the data recovery company, because far from recovering the data they sent it back with the tape damaged and spliced — something you can do with an analogue tape but not a digital one without compromising the data. Then faced with an unrecoverable tape and a slightly different Onstream cartridge, how could anything be salvaged?

The answer came in overriding the drive’s sensors and initializing it with a known-good tape, then swapping out the tapes so that the drive, unaware anything had changed, could read whatever data it could find. In the event the vast majority of the archive was retrieved, making it a win for the preservation of that game.

This may be more involved than some recovery stories, but it’s not the first we’ve covered.

17 thoughts on “When The Professionals Trash Your Data Tape, Can It Still Be Recovered?

    1. I think that really depends on how they dealt with make the mistake. Even the best of the best company or individual will sometimes make a mistake. So really if they deal with their mistakes if they do what they can to make good their error then I see no reason to name and shame, BUT if they jerk you around, won’t even give the refund etc… Then they must be put out of business as quickly as possible!

      1. Don’t be stupid, you could easily just read the link and see how it went. While the company offered a “no data recovery, no payment” situation, usually that sort of thing doesn’t also involve the “data-recovery” company also literally damaging your shit and making it even harder to have competent people handle it.

        If it was down to the company charging money for work they couldn’t do, that would be one thing. But doing something for free can still have negative value. If you give me your iPod so that I can try to recover the songs off it, without paying me anything, and I go and smash it against a rock, I’ve still done something harmful. That’s the sort of situation we’re looking at here.

        1. There is a difference between good faith and malicious though – you take the ipod and smash it against a rock clearly stupid – that move is of no merit at all. But you take the ipod open it up and desolder something to put your tool on there expecting to get the goods but it goes wrong – perhaps because this is a different model of ipod and you just did the wrong procedure. That is shit that happens sometimes, even when the company knows it can – It only takes one guy to tell the other to do this to the ipod without telling them why and this is that rarer ‘type b’ job, so they go and do the ‘type a’ method on it being the usual method.

          Which in this case is possibly because they have to read it with a generic or universal tape head data recovery tool more manually and not the original style of drive often enough to get around the many failure points a tape can have inside. The quality of the splices speaks to a genuine good faith attempt that went wrong to me. I’d be annoyed if it happened to me, but as long as they dealt with that mistake as well as they are able to – which we can’t know as we don’t have their email logs – all we know is they screwed up and it made ’em rather angry. But apparently not angry enough to do more than be angry on the post where they fixed the issue. Which means the company presumably did something right in their communications and reparations.

  1. I have had success in restoring a pinch roller. Not from a tape drive, but a feed roller from a metal Dymo label maker tool. I got some 1/4″ stiff rubber sheet (the height of the roller) and used a couple of punches to create a thick washer, with a slightly oversize OD. I used a bolt as a mandrel and a file to roughen, reduce and make the OD concentric with the ID. Lacking a lathe, I did this on a benchtop drill press.

    I’m not saying this would work in this case, but when you’re up against the wall, sometimes it’s worth a try.

    1. For more complex rollers, you can freeze the rubber (dry ice rather than domestic freezer) and then machine it in short ops without ‘coolant’ (which is instead too hot in this situation) between re-chilling cycles.

        1. I don’t think it is doable to machine a rubber roller with a laser and i really doubt this is a good idea. You know the smell of burned rubber, don’t you?

    2. A slightly faster method is to use 2mm ID vacum hose which has a 8mmOD , with a little glue it will affix to the pinch shaft and you’re done. I repaired two spectrum tape drives using this method.

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